Addressing SEIU/AFSCME talking points

Public Unions are taking well-deserved heat for their pension greed. If you look at all the pension articles, the comments are full of reasonable sounding folks trotting out the argument that the really bad examples of abusive pensions are “outliers.” They then tell you that the average benefit is “only $20,000/year.” It’s best to address this calmly, reasonably, and accurately. Here’s how.

Some folks defending the public employee pension issue like to point out that the majority of those receiving benefits get relatively low payouts.  They often use lines like “the average benefit is only $17-20K/yr.”  This union talking point needs to be addressed.

While it is technically correct, they mask the real problem, which is the large number of the new retirees on the horizon, coupled with the actuarial insanity of their benefits. (I’m using Illinois as an example, but the same has occurred in CA, NJ, and the entire Northeast)

Think of 10 people who retired 15-20 years ago receiving $20K/yr. Now think of one greedy school superintendent who just retired sucking down $200K (or more) after hopping from district to district, ramping up his retirement with fat contracts no one ever vetted. Multiply that one person by a few 1000 in each state. Add to that whatever number of teachers are receiving big pensions after goosing their unwarranted salaries for the last 4 years of their careers.

Now you have this large run up in the number of retirees, the size of the pensions, and the INSANE early retirement options. It’s a HUGE problem. For icing on the bankruptcy cake, add in free health care for life for many of these folks.

Public Unions have bankrupted the states where they’ve gained massive power. It’s time to tell them to sit down, shut up, and take the massive cuts they deserve. Since their pension benefits are probably protected by awful constitutional clauses guaranteeing them, the best solution is to make every one of these folks with pensions over $100K pay 100% of their own health costs. In this political environment, that policy will pass political muster.

When a politician balks at this policy, and defends unions, fat pensions, and the feeble idea that “government workers” have the right to bankrupt the state, burn their political career to the ground. The time is right.
There is no real downside to being rhetorically and politically aggressive on this point. To that end, I post this type of comment on many articles about the pension greed of public unions.

Look here, the fact that police protect us, that firemen run into burning buildings, and teachers educate our children, does NOT give them the right to bankrupt our civilization. It is time to get right up into the face of these unethical people and tell them to stop! It is also time for all of you to stop buying the “poor public employee” load of lies, and abolish public unionization. The best next step is to end this era of public greed forever is to cap the growth of EVERY government entity’s budget to inflation plus population growth.

14 thoughts on “Addressing SEIU/AFSCME talking points”

  1. The simplest solution is to make public pension benefits payable only upon reaching a certain minimum age which would vary based on years in stressful occupations. Right now they are generally payable after 20-30 years in the system rather than upon age. Teacher pensions would be payable at, say, age 65. Police and fire pensions would be payable at age 52 absent disability because the physical stresses of their jobs wear their bodies out faster.

    My county’s pension plan (StanCera) is one of the exceptions. It allows earlier pension payments than age 65, but those pensions are lower. Police and firemen aside, members don’t get full pensions unless they retire at age 65 or later.

    THE major abuse of public pensions is that the pensions are generally paid at the full rate to pensioners who retire well before age 65. Delaying payment until age 65 will dramatically reduce public pension costs.

  2. It seems to me that the simplest position is to agree that the average pension benefit is not a problem and to propose that we can all agree on capping benefits for the “greedy fat cats” who are abusing the system to draw obscene pensions. If pensions were capped at say $80,000 (inflation adjusted) what right-thinking progressive could possibly object?


  3. I’m perturbed by the number of firemen, LEOs, and other public employees who miraculously fall victim to questionable disabilities about half-way through what would be a normal career. I do appreciate that certain lines of work are far more hazardous than others, that younger retirement ages may make sense in certain categories of work. But there does seem to be a gremlin flitting about that disables public employee union members at a rather high rate.

  4. Mr. Burgsss,

    That is an oversight & enforcement issue due to people gaming the system. The same is true of the “health of the mother” exception to state laws against third-trimester abortions.

    It is not a systemic flaw. It is due to a failure of will to enforce the rules.

    My day job entails, among other things, oversight of employment-related disability application. It is my experience that appeals by employees of denials of disability applications are generally justified, and that successful appeals of disability applications are almost always by line personnel without political connections in their employment.

    My political experience is that successful abuses of disability retirement are generally by politically connected personnel, and occur due to deliberately lax oversight. The abusive disability applications are simply approved the first time. There is rarely any sort of administrative mechanism for appeal of wrongfully approved disability applications. There is only an appeal process for appeal of applications which are denied.

    I repeat, the abuse of employment disability you refer to is an oversight & enforcement issue arising from use of political connections by the abusers.

  5. It seems to me that the simplest position is to agree that the average pension benefit is not a problem and to propose that we can all agree on capping benefits for the “greedy fat cats” who are abusing the system


    The simplest position is to agree that the age of pensions is over. Everyone should save for his old age out of his own earnings or resign himself to being a very poor retiree — or working till he drops. For what it matters, I’m in the latter category. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  6. “working till he drops”

    I have always known that Social Security would be crapped out by the time I came along.

    My advice to anyone under age 60 is to stay fit and skinny. You are going to be working until you die, and that’s if you are lucky.

  7. Actually Lex, there is a lefty econ blog called ‘Angry Bear’ that makes a cogent case that Soc. Sec. is quite salvageable. They want to do it with tax increases (raising the cap) and I’d do it by starting to phase the retirement age up to 72.

    A mix of those two, combined with some form of means testing and personal accounts for those under 45 would set Soc Sec. for solvency for generations.

    Medicare and Medicaid are the real killers.

  8. Bruno Behrend,

    Actually Lex, there is a lefty econ blog called ‘Angry Bear’ that makes a cogent case that Soc. Sec. is quite salvageable.

    That sounds like the plan that simply converts Social Security into a straight welfare program. Right now, social security is a quasi-pension system in that everyone who pays into the system gets something back. Of course, you can “save” social security by forcing large numbers of people to pay into the system without ever receiving any benefits. Of course, that is like saying that all private pension are solvent assuming that people who never receive the pensions have to pay into them.

    That plan is basically a scraping of social security and replacing it with a system just like current welfare. Old people won’t retire and live off the pension they earned through decades of paying into the system. They will just stop working and go on welfare. You can still call it “Social Security” but it won’t actually be anything like the current system.

    This evolution is already underway. Back in the 70s or 80s they started manipulating the formulas linking pay-in with payout such that people at the upper end of the income curve would receive less in return compared to a lower income person.

  9. They often use lines like “the average benefit is only $17-20K/yr.”

    They get that average by tossing in all the people who work for the government for any minimal length of time needed to qualify for a pension. You have a lot of people who don’t make a career of government and only work for a few years. They receive only minor pensions. These people don’t cost a lot per capita but their head count figures into the divisor for the average.

    Averages in general are useless except for highly grouped and symmetrical data. One of profs quipped: Suppose you have a population of one hundred humans, fifty alive and fifty dead. You take pulses. All the live people have a pulse of 80 and the dead have a pulse of 0. You could therefore honestly say that the average pulse of the population was 40.

    The real problem is the large numbers of people who both work and collect long-term. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that pension payouts follow Perato’s rule i.e. 80% of the pensioners collect only 20% of the payouts while 20% of the pensioners collect 80% of the payouts.

    I am certain that if you crunch the actual numbers behind the “average” you will find its like the pulse average. Suppose 8 in 10 people that receive any pension at all are short-termers and collect $5000 a year. Then suppose that 2 in 10 are long-termers that collect $100,000 a year. So, the “average” pension is 140,000/10 = $14,000.

    Gosh, who could cruelly take away a paltry $14,000 a year from pensioners who of course have nothing else to live on!


  10. Shannon correctly states: “The real problem is the large numbers of people who both work and collect long-term.”

    The way to deal with that is to make pension benefits immediately payable only for work-related disability (which is presently true) OR upon reaching age 65. THE major problem with public pensions is that, in most cases, those are payable upon serving 30 years in the system. This allows persons who entered service at age 24 to retire with a full pension at age 54 and keep on working at some other job.

    The way to stop this is to make pension benefits payable only at age 65 or, in the case of job-related disability, upon the disability.

  11. Tom Holsinger,

    The way to deal with that is to make pension benefits immediately payable only for work-related disability (which is presently true) OR upon reaching age 65

    There will resistance to that because no one wants to have to start an entirely new career at 50+. Say you are a firefighter who puts in 30 years and retires at 54. Say in the last 10 years of your career you were earning $50,000-$70,000 a year. What kind of job can an inexperienced (in anything but firefighting) 54 year old get that will pay him anything close to what he earned? People envision themselves building a comfortable middle-class life and then sudden having to live for 10 to 15 years before their pension kicks in on the income from a burger flipping job.

    Ask anyone who lost their job past 60. It is tough.

    Most people are terrified at the idea of starting a career over from scratch past 45 and public employees are no different. That is one of the factors driving the pumping of pensions in the last few years. People want to maintain their lifestyles. People expect to cut back a lot when they get old but not at the time when most people are at their peak earning years.

    This is yet another reason why personal pensions are best. People can make their own decisions. People don’t need to be cared for, they need wealth they themselves can manage.

  12. Shannon,

    They don’t HAVE to start a second career. They can stay in their existing job too. But they can’t start receiving pension benefits before reaching the normal retirement age for their occupation unless they have a job-related disability. Most people’s retirement age is 65, but I’d have it be lower for phyisically stressful jobs like police or firemen. Read my first post. I’ve always said there should be exceptions for phyiscally stressful jobs.

    But, for most present public employees, it wouldn’t matter whether they started their public employment career at age 23 or at age 35 – their pension benefits wouldn’t start until age 65. The ones who start earlier would just have their full pensions “vest” at an earlier age.

    Right now they aren’t required to quit after 30 years in service. It just pays them to do so because they can collect full pensions immediately and can earn more money working a new job. I’d stop that scam by not initiating payment of pensions until age 65. And they’d have to retire at age 65 to get the pension.

    I don’t intend to retire at age 65, and I am a public employee. I intend to retire around age 67-68. I could start pension benefits at age 65 if I retire then, but I just don’t want to, and my court won’t force me to quit.

  13. Tom Holsinger,

    Sorry, I misread and thought you were talking about public safety workers that have to retire early because of the physical nature of their jobs.

    Of course, you are correct that people that work office jobs can usually work until 65 and often past. Just because someone has there 20 or 30 years in is no reason they get to retire early.

    I think that idea started in the military which has an “up or out” system in which service members must retire after a set time if they don’t receive promotion. If civilian public employees want to be able to take pensions after an arbitary time as in the military, they need to also accept the “up or out” system of promotion.

  14. Shannon, I make an exception for physically stressful jobs like police & firemen. I’d make their pensions payable at age 52 unless they suffer a job-related disability at an earlier age, which often happens.

    And police & firemen who want to work past age 52 should be able do so provided they are still physically capable of doing so safely.

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